APEX - Parents in Apex, an area hit hard by Wake County school bus woes, say they are finally starting to see improvements after weeks of overcrowded and late or no-show buses.
Schools are starting on time, bus drivers are getting to morning stops regularly, and more buses are leaving schools on time in the afternoons, some parents and school principals said.
Lufkin Road Middle School parent Elizabeth Cavaliero said she has seen a difference in her daughters bus schedule. The bus was either late or didnt come at all during the first week of school.
One day they had to send another bus to come pick her up because the first one was already filled, Cavaliero said. That was the day she was 30 minutes late to school.
After the school district added more buses, Cavaliero said, the problem went away.
Wake school leaders have spent the past four weeks trying to fix a logistical nightmare that started Aug. 27, the first day of traditional-calendar schools. Initially, the school system took dozens of buses off the road to save money and increase its state efficiency rating. After problems became apparent and parents were outraged, the school system put 41 of the buses back in service.
The Apex area, one of 15 transportation districts across the county, started the school year with 80 buses, said Cris Mulder, chief of family and community engagement for Wake schools. The school system added about half a dozen more on Sept. 7 after many Apex parents complained.
Apex was the only transportation district in which school leaders implemented combined routes, Mulder said. Under that system, students who attended different schools were transported on the same buses.
Combined routes were put in place in Apex because many schools and neighborhoods in that area are close together, Mulder said.
But it quickly became clear combined routes were causing problems. Late buses affected dropoff and pickup times at multiple schools, Mulder said. The routes have since been separated.Long bus rides persist
But thats not to say all problems are resolved. Some students are still spending an hour or more on the bus to get home.
Skeptical about the consistency of the morning bus runs, Laurel Park Elementary School parent Connie Helmlinger put her daughter in the YMCAs before-school program to make sure she could get to work on time.
In the afternoons, though, Helmlinger said her child is on the bus too long.
Its consistent, but its still an hour to an hour and fifteen minutes after school ends, she said. So its still not ideal.
Apex Elementary School parent Carol Bouchard gave up on the bus altogether. The first week of school, she said, pickup times ranged from 7:30 a.m. to 8:50 a.m. Dropoff was as late as 5:10 p.m.
They dont want to take the bus, Bouchard said of her kids, ages 9 and 7. Because by the time they get off the bus its an hour and a half later, and their play time is gone.Twitter and GPS
Some schools are turning to social media to let parents know buses schedules. At Apex Elementary, a Twitter feed can be read via the schools website. So far, the account has more than 100 followers.
The school system is encouraging schools to find innovative ways to keep parents informed, Mulder said.
I think our schools have done a good job of building their own communication patterns, she said.
Eventually, parents could be able to track buses whereabouts through GPS technology. Wake schools are working on a system that will send out information, maybe online or through smartphone applications, Mulder said.
In the meantime, carpool lanes at some schools are starting to dwindle as parents and students are taking their chances with the bus.
At the height of the bus woes, more than 135 cars would back up near Apex Elementary School to pick up students.
With a toddler at home and a job to get to in the mornings, Apex Elementary parent Angela Smelcer couldnt give up hope on the bus system. Now shes cautiously optimistic that the district has fixed the problems. She said her sons bus has come on time at least two mornings in a row.
Its day by day, Smelcer said. Staff Writer Sarah Nagem contributed to this report.